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Roman Catholicism in Scotland

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Roman Catholicism in Scotland

Percentage claiming to be Catholic in the 2011 census in Scotland
St. Andrew's Cathedral in Glasgow, seat of the Archbishop of Glasgow

Roman Catholicism in Scotland (Scottish Gaelic: An Eaglais Chaitligeach), overseen by the Scottish Bishops' Conference, is part of the worldwide Roman Catholic church, the Christian church headed by the Pope. After being firmly established in Scotland for nearly a millennium, Roman Catholicism was outlawed following the Scottish Reformation in 1560. Catholic Emancipation in 1793 helped Roman Catholicism regain civil rights. In 1878, the Roman Catholic hierarchy was formally restored.[1] Throughout these changes, several pockets in Scotland retained a significant pre-Reformation Roman Catholic population, including parts of Banffshire, the Hebrides, and more northern parts of the Scottish Highlands.

In 1716, Scalan seminary was established in the Highlands and rebuilt in the 1760s by Bishop John Geddes, a well-known figure in the Edinburgh of the Enlightenment period. When Robert Burns wrote to a correspondent that "the first [that is, finest] cleric character I ever saw was a Roman Catholick," he was referring to Bishop Geddes.[2] Scottish Gaeldom has been both Roman Catholic and Protestant in modern times. A number of Scottish Gaelic areas now are mainly Roman Catholic, including Barra, South Uist, and Moidart. The poet and novelist Angus Peter Campbell writes frequently about Roman Catholicism in his work. (See also the "Religion of the Yellow Stick".)

In the 2001 census, about 16% of the population of Scotland described themselves as being Roman Catholic, compared with 42% affiliated with the Church of Scotland.[3] Many Roman Catholics in Scotland are the descendants of Irish immigrants and of Highland migrants who moved to Scotland's cities and towns during the 19th century, when there was a potato famine in Ireland, and older Scottish Highland minorities. However, there are significant numbers of Italian, Lithuanian[4] and Polish descent, with more recent Polish immigrants again boosting the numbers of continental Roman Catholic Europeans in Scotland. Owing to immigration (overwhelmingly white European), it is estimated that, in 2009, there were about 850,000 Catholics in a country of 5.1 million.[5] Between 1994 and 2002, Roman Catholic attendance in Scotland declined 19% to just over 200,000.[6] By 2008, the Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference of Scotland estimated that 184,283 attended Mass regularly.[7]


  • History 1
    • Establishment 1.1
    • Scottish Reformation 1.2
    • Decline from the 17th century 1.3
    • Impact of the Clearances 1.4
    • Large-scale Catholic immigration 1.5
    • Sectarian tensions 1.6
    • Denominational concord, social change, and ongoing communal divisions 1.7
  • Organisation 2
  • Recent years 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6



Christianity probably came to parts of southern Scotland around the 2nd century, when the religion was established in Roman Britain generally. According to tradition, however, Scottish Christianity got its start with the mission of the Cumbrian Saint Ninian in the 4th century. His Life describes Ninian as a Briton who studied in Rome and became the first Roman Catholic bishop to visit Scotland when he was sent to the Hen Ogledd, the Brythonic area of northern England and southern Scotland. Around 397, he established Scotland's first church, the Candida Casa in Whithorn, which became his centre of operations. Later, he went north to begin evangelising the Picts.

According to the Vitae Niniani, Ninian saw his journey to Rome as a calling:

And where is the faith of Peter, but in the See of Peter? Thither, thither I must repair, that going forth from my country, from my kindred, and from my father's house, I may see in the land of the Vision the will of the Lord and be protected by His Temple. (Ex Hist. Vitae S. Niniani a S. Aelredo Ab. cons.)

Some Picts abandoned Christianity at some point; Saint Patrick speaks of "Apostate Picts" in his mid-5th-century Letter to Coroticus.[8] Then, in 563, the expatriate Irish monk Columba settled on the island of Iona with twelve companions, and started a monastery there. Columba's monastery became one of Britain's most important religious sites and was instrumental in converting the Picts and in providing the church with an institutional structure after the end of Roman rule in Britain and the Anglo-Saxon invasion had reduced contact between Britain and the continent. In the following years, monks from Iona established monasteries throughout Scotland, Britain, and continental Europe, including the important priory of Lindisfarne in Northumberland. Ionan monks also converted the Orkney and Shetland islands in the pre-Norse period, as reflected in the papar names and in commemorations such as North Ronaldsay (actually a corruption of "Rinansey" – St Ninian's Island). Early Christian settlements in Scotland are commemorated by "Kil-" names (e.g., Kilmarnock).

St Columba.

The Roman Catholic faith was firmly established in the 6th or 7th century. The Scottish Celtic Church originally had marked liturgical and ecclesiological differences from the rest of Western Christendom, being monastically led. Some of these were resolved at the end of the 7th century following the Synod of Whitby and St Columba's withdrawal to Iona, and others in the ecclesiastical reforms of the 11th century, so that the Scottish Church became an integral part of the Roman Catholic communion.

Scottish Reformation

That remained the case until the Scottish Reformation in the early 16th century, when the Church in Scotland broke with the papacy and adopted a Calvinist confession. At that point, the celebration of the Roman Catholic mass was outlawed. Some Scottish Roman Catholics remained, mainly in a small strip from the northeastern coast to the Western Isles, and notably in Moidart, Morar, South Uist, and Barra. Moreover, some Scottish lairds and land owners remained Roman Catholic (and some were to convert to Roman Catholicism, as did Saint John Ogilvie [1569–1615], who went on to be ordained a priest in 1610, later being hanged for proselytism in Glasgow). Nevertheless, when Mary, Queen of Scots, returned from France to rule, she found herself a Catholic in a largely Protestant state and Protestant court. Roman Catholicism's illegal status had a devastating impact on The Church's fortunes, although a significant congregation did continue to adhere, especially in the more remote Gaelic-speaking areas of the Highlands and Islands.[9]

Decline from the 17th century

The college at Scalan in July 2007

Numbers probably reduced in the seventeenth century and organisation deteriorated.[10] The aftermath of the failed Jacobite risings in 1715 and 1745 further damaged the Roman Catholic cause in Scotland.[10]

The Pope appointed Scalan in Glenlivet was the preliminary centre of education for Catholic priests in the area. It was illegal, and it was burned to the ground on several occasions by soldiers sent from beyond The Highlands.[12] Beyond Scalan there were six attempts to found a seminary in the Highlands between 1732 and 1838, all suffering financially under Catholicism's illegal status.[11] Clergy entered the country secretly and although services were illegal they were maintained.[13]

Exact numbers of communicants are uncertain, given the illegal status of Catholicism. In 1755 it was estimated that there were some 16,500 communicants, mainly in the north and west.[13] In 1764, "the total Catholic population in Scotland would have been about 33,000 or 2.6% of the total population. Of these 23,000 were in the Highlands".[14] Another estimate for 1764 is of 13,166 Catholics in the Highlands, perhaps a quarter of whom had emigrated by 1790,[15] and another source estimates Roman Catholics as perhaps 10% of the population.[15]

Impact of the Clearances

St. Ninian's Church from 1755 is a Roman Catholic clandestine church located at the Enzie

While the landlords responsible for the Highland Clearances did not target people for ethnic or religious reasons,[16] there is evidence of anti-Catholicism in the thoughts of some who were responsible for the clearances.[17][18][19][20][21][22][23] In particular, large numbers of Catholics emigrated from the Western Highlands in the period 1770 to 1810 and there is evidence that anti Catholic sentiment (along with famine, poverty and rising rents) was a contributory factor in that period.[24][25] Noteworthy figures in the late stages of the specifically Catholic clearances and emigration from Scotland include Bishop Alexander Macdonnell, who, against the odds, made possible a settlement in Ontario, Canada, of an army regiment, and their families, after its disbandment.[26][27]

Large-scale Catholic immigration

During the 19th century, Irish immigration substantially increased the number of Roman Catholics in the country, especially in the West of Scotland. Later Italian, Polish, and Lithuanian immigrants reinforced those numbers.

The Roman Catholic hierarchy was re-established in 1878, at the beginning of his pontificate, by Pope Leo XIII. As of late 2013, Archbishop Leo Cushley holds senior Roman Catholic bishopric in Scotland - that of Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh - following the resignation of Cardinal Keith O'Brien.

Sectarian tensions

Mass immigration saw the emergence of sectarian tensions. In 1923, the Church of Scotland produced a highly controversial (and since repudiated) report entitled The Menace of the Irish Race to our Scottish Nationality. It accused the largely immigrant Roman Catholic population of subverting Presbyterian values and of causing drunkenness, crime, and financial imprudence. John White, one of the leading figures in the Church of Scotland at the time, called for a "racially pure" Scotland, declaring, "Today there is a movement throughout the world towards the rejection of non-native constituents and the crystallization of national life from native elements."[28] Such official attitudes started to wane considerably from the 1930s and '40s onward, especially when the established church leaders learned of what was happening in eugenics-conscious Nazi Germany and of the dangers of a national or folk-church. Germans who were ethnically Slavic or Jewish were not considered "true" Germans or members of the German Volk.[29][30]

Denominational concord, social change, and ongoing communal divisions

In 1986, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland expressly repudiated the sections of the Westminster Confession directly attacking Roman Catholicism. In 1990, both the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church were founder members of the ecumenical bodies Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and Action of Churches Together in Scotland; relations between denominational leaders are now very cordial. Unlike the relationship between the hierarchies of the different churches, however, some communal tensions remain.

The association between football and displays of sectarian behaviour by some fans has been a source of embarrassment and concern to the management of certain clubs. The bitter rivalry between Celtic and Rangers in Glasgow, known as the Old Firm, is known worldwide for its sectarian divide. Celtic was founded by Irish Catholic immigrants and Rangers is traditionally supported by Unionists and Protestants. Sectarian tensions can still be very real, though perhaps diminished compared with past decades. Perhaps the greatest psychological breakthrough was when Rangers signed Mo Johnston (a Roman Catholic) in 1989. Celtic, on the other hand have never had a policy of not signing players due to their religion, and some of the club's greatest figures have been Protestants.[31][32]

The Scottish Parliament has recently legislated against sectarianism, making sectarian-related offences a form of aggravated offence.

The Roman Catholic community in Scotland was once largely working-class. In recent years, the situation has changed markedly: many Roman Catholics can be found in the what used to be called the professions, and it is now unremarkable for Roman Catholics to be occupying posts in the judiciary or in national politics. In 1999. the Rt Hon Dr John Reid MP became the first Roman Catholic to hold the office of Secretary of State for Scotland. His succession by the Rt Hon Helen Liddell MP in 2001 attracted considerably more media comment that she was the first woman to hold the post than that she was the second Roman Catholic. Also notable was the recent appointment of Louise Richardson to the University of St. Andrews as its Principal and Vice-Chancellor. St. Andrews is the third oldest university of the English-speaking world. Richardson, a Roman Catholic, was born in Ireland and is a naturalised United States citizen. She is the first woman to hold that office and first Roman Catholic to hold it since the Reformation.[33]

It is notable that the Roman Catholic church recognises the separate identities of Scotland and of England and Wales. The denomination in Scotland is thus governed by its own hierarchy and Bishops' Conference, not under the control of English bishops. In recent years, for example, there have been times when it was especially the Scottish Roman Catholic bishops who took the floor in the United Kingdom to argue for Roman Catholic social and moral teaching. Interestingly, the presidents of the Bishops' Conferences of England and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland do meet formally to discuss "mutual concerns," though they are separate national entities. "Closer cooperation between the presidents can only help the Church's work," a spokesman noted recently.[34]


There are two Roman Catholic archbishops and six bishops in Scotland:

Diocese Province Approximate Territory Cathedral Creation
01Diocese of Aberdeen
Bishop of Aberdeen
05Saint Andrews and Edinburgh Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Moray, Highland (except southern Inverness-shire, Skye and the islands), The Orkney Islands, The Shetland Islands Cathedral Church of St Mary of the Assumption 021878
02Diocese of Argyll and the Isles
Bishop of Argyll and the Isles
06Saint Andrews and Edinburgh Argyll and Bute, southern Inverness-shire, Arran, The Hebrides Islands Cathedral Church of St Columba 031878
03Diocese of Dunkeld
Bishop of Dunkeld
07Saint Andrews and Edinburgh Dundee, Forfarshire, Perthshire and northern Fife Cathedral Church of St Andrew 031878
04Diocese of Galloway
Bishop of Galloway
08Saint Andrews and Edinburgh Ayrshire (except Arran), Dumfries and Galloway Cathedral Church of St Margaret 041878
05Archdiocese of Glasgow
Archbishop of Glasgow
01Glasgow Glasgow and Dunbartonshire Metropolitan Cathedral Church of St Andrew 061878
06Diocese of Motherwell
Bishop of Motherwell
02Glasgow Lanarkshire Cathedral Church of Our Lady of Good Aid 071947
(from Archdiocese of Glasgow and Diocese of Galloway)
07Diocese of Paisley
Bishop of Paisley
03Glasgow Renfrewshire Cathedral Church of Saint Mirin 081947
(from Archdiocese of Glasgow)
08Archdiocese of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh
Archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh
04Saint Andrews and Edinburgh Saint Andrews, most of Fife, Kinross-shire, Clackmannanshire, Stirlingshire, West Lothian, Edinburgh, Midlothian, East Lothian, Scottish Borders Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption 011878
23Eparchy of the Holy Family of London
Bishop Hlib Lonchyna
23Kiev–Galicia Great Britain Cathedral Church of the Holy Family in Exile 191968
(elevated to Eparchy 2013)
24Bishopric of the Forces
Bishop Richard Moth
24Holy See HM Forces both in Britain and abroad Cathedral Church of St Michael and St George 231986
25Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham
Monsignor Keith Newton
25Holy See Former Anglican clergy, religious and laity resident in England, Wales and Scotland. Principal Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory 252011

Recent years

% Roman Catholicism by council area in Scotland.

In 2001, Catholics were a minority in each of Scotland's 32 council areas but in a few parts of the country their numbers rivaled those of the official Church of Scotland. The most Catholic part of the country is composed of the western Central Belt council areas near Glasgow. In Inverclyde, 38.3% of persons responding to the 2001 Scottish Census reported themselves to be Catholic compared to 40.9% as adherents of the Church of Scotland. North Lanarkshire also already had a large Catholic minority at 36.8% compared to 40.0% in the Church of Scotland. Following in order were West Dunbartonshire (35.8%), Glasgow City (31.7%), Renfrewshire (24.6%), East Dunbartonshire (23.6%), South Lanarkshire (23.6%) and East Renfrewshire (21.7%).

Since 2001 the percentage denoting their religion as Church of Scotland decreased, with those identifying as Roman Catholic unchanged (though up in absolute terms due to population increase).[35][36] In 2011, Catholics outnumbered adherents of the Church of Scotland in several council areas, including North Lanarkshire, Inverclyde, West Dunbartonshire and the most populous one: Glasgow City.[37] Between the two censuses, numbers in Glasgow with no religion rose significantly while those noting their affiliation to the Church of Scotland dropped significantly so that the latter fell below that with an affiliation to Roman Catholicism.[38]

At a smaller geographic scale, one finds that the two most Catholic parts of Scotland are: (1) the southern-most islands of the Western Isles, especially Barra and South Uist, populated by Gaelic-speaking Scots of long-standing; and (2) the eastern suburbs of Glasgow, especially around Coatbridge, populated mostly by the descendants of Irish immigrants.[39]

According to the 2011 census, Catholics comprise 16% of the overall population, making it the second largest church after the Church of Scotland (32%).[40]

In recent years the Catholic Church in Scotland has suffered from poor publicity connected to attacks made against secular and liberal values by senior clergy. Joseph Devine, Bishop of Motherwell, came under fire after describing the "gay lobby" as "the opposition" who were responsible for mounting a "a giant conspiracy" to shape public policy.[41] Criticism has also been levelled at perceived intransigence on joint faith schools over threats to withdraw acqueisence if guarantees of separate staff rooms, toilets, gyms, visitor and pupil entrances were not met.[42] In 2003 a Catholic church spokesman branded sex education as "pornography" and Cardinal O'Brien claimed plans to give sex education to pre-school children amounted to "state-sponsored sexual abuse of minors."[43]

In early 2013, Scotland's most senior cleric, Cardinal Keith O'Brien resigned after allegations of sexual misconduct were made against him.[44] Subsequently, allegations were made that several other cases of alleged sexual misconduct took place involving other priests.[45]

See also


  1. ^ Archdiocese of Edinburgh Retrieved 21 February 2009
  2. ^ Michael Martin, "Sae let the Lord be thankit," The Tablet, 27 June 2009, 20.
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ "Legacies – Immigration and Emigration – Scotland – Strathclyde – Lithuanians in Lanarkshire". BBC. Retrieved 18 December 2011. 
  5. ^ Andrew Collier "Scotland's confident Catholics" Tablet 10 January 2009, 16
  6. ^ Tad Turski (1 February 2011). "Statistics". Retrieved 18 December 2011. 
  7. ^ "How many Catholics are there in Britain?". BBC News. 15 September 2010. Retrieved 6 March 2013. 
  8. ^ Todd, James Henthorn (1864). St. Patrick, Apostle to the Irish. Dublin: Hodges, Smith, & Co.
  9. ^ John Prebble, Culloden, (Pimlico: London, 1961), p. 50.
  10. ^ a b J. T. Koch, Celtic Culture: a Historical Encyclopedia, Volumes 1-5 (London: ABC-CLIO, 2006), ISBN 1-85109-440-7, pp. 416-7.
  11. ^ a b M. Lynch, Scotland: A New History (London: Pimlico, 1992), ISBN 0712698930, p. 365.
  12. ^ J. Prebble, (1961) Culloden (London: Pimlico, 1963), p. 50.
  13. ^ a b J. D. Mackie, B. Lenman and G. Parker, A History of Scotland (London: Penguin, 1991), ISBN 0140136495, pp. 298-9.
  14. ^ Toomey, Kathleen (1991) Emigration from the Scottish Catholic bounds 1770-1810 and the role of the clergy, PhD thesis, University of Edinburgh, Chapter 1.
  15. ^ a b Lynch, Michael,Scotland, A New History (Pimlico: London, 1992), p. 367.
  16. ^ G. Dawson and S. Farber, Forcible Displacement Throughout the Ages: Towards an International Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Forcible Displacement (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2012), ISBN 9004220542, p. 31.
  17. ^ Prebble, John (1961) Culloden, Pimlico, London pp. 49-51, 325-326.
  18. ^ "'"Appreciation: John Prebble. The Guardian. 9 February 2001. Retrieved 5 February 2014. 
  19. ^ "The Cultural Impact of the Highland Clearances". Noble, Ross BBC History. 7 July 2008. Retrieved 5 February 2014. 
  20. ^ "Toiling in the Vale of Tears: Everyday life and Resistance in South Uist, Outer Hebrides, 1760-1860". International Journal of Historical Archaeology. June 1999.  JSTOR 20852924
  21. ^ Prebble, John (1969) The Highland Clearances, Penguin, London p. 137.
  22. ^ Kelly, Bernard William (1905) The Fate of Glengarry: or, The Expatriation of the Macdonells, an historico-biographical study, James Duffy & Co. Ltd, Dublin pp. 6-11, 18-31, 43-45.
  23. ^ Rea, J.E. (1974) Bishop Alexander MacDonell and The Politics of Upper Canada, Ontario Historical Society, Toronto pp. 2-7, 9-10.
  24. ^ Richards, Eric (2008). "Chapter 4, Section VI: Emigration". The Highland Clearances: People, Landlords and Rural Turmoil. Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd. p. 81. 
  25. ^ Toomey, Kathleen (1991) Emigration from the Scottish Catholic bounds 1770-1810 and the role of the clergy, PhD thesis, University of Edinburgh.
  26. ^ Kelly, Bernard William (1905) The Fate of Glengarry: or, The Expatriation of the Macdonells, an historico-biographical study, James Duffy & Co. Ltd, Dublin
  27. ^ Rea, J.E. (1974) Bishop Alexander MacDonell and The Politics of Upper Canada, Ontario Historical Society, Toronto
  28. ^ Duncan B. Forrester "Ecclesia Scoticana – Established, Free, or National?" Theology March/April 1999, 80–89
  29. ^ Kevin Spicer Nazi Priests ( DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, published in association with Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington [D.C.], 2008), 12–28, 74–75,95–6,114–24,164–68,175–6,182–92,202,231
  30. ^ Kevin Spicer Resisting the Third Reich (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2004), 139, 149, 175–8. Having a racially pure church was never part of the Roman Catholic church's agenda; however, German historian Kevin Spicer points out that in the 1930s and '40s some German priests (called "brown" [after the color of the Nazi uniform] or "Nazi" priests) held similar views to those of John White and his fellow Presbyterians, though insisting upon a racially pure Germany instead of a racially pure Scotland. Here is Spicer on Karl Adam, one of the German priests advocating a racially pure German state: "According to him, Germans were not simply 'Christian and Catholics as such, but German Christians, German Catholics.'" Then Spicer quotes Adam (articulating what some German priests believed at that time): "This German factor is not something that is merely an external addition to our existence as Christians,...but the reverse is the case: it is our 'natura germanica' [natural German state] which constitutes the substantial, permanent, underlying factor and Christian existence as a special gift from God is added to this original and primeval nature as an 'accident.'" German blood, said Adam, also was and remained "the substantial carrier of our Christian reality." It linked both German Roman Catholics and German Protestants in "an insoluble community of blood (Blutgemeinschaft)." This view was repudiated by Roman Catholic bishops and Pope Old Prussian ancestry centuries back was Slavic or Baltic in origin (and not "purely" German), similar to English ancestry's French Norman and Germanic (i.e., Angles, Saxons, Jutes) links, suggesting that there is no "purity" of European ethnic divisions.
  31. ^ "Celtic Football Club". Retrieved 2013-10-18. 
  32. ^ "Celtic Football Club". Retrieved 2013-10-18. 
  33. ^ Raymond Bonner "In Scotland, New Leadership Crumbles Old Barrier" The New York Times 28 March 2009, 5
  34. ^ "Groundbreaking meeting for presidents," The Tablet, 13 June 2009, 38.
  35. ^ Census reveals huge rise in number of non-religious scots
  36. ^ number of scottish catholics on the rise
  37. ^ Religion by council area, Scotland, 2011
  38. ^ Table 2 Changes in religion in Glasgow between 2001 and 2011
  39. ^ Scotland's Census Results On-Line (SCROL)
  40. ^ "Census reveals huge rise in number of non-religious Scots," Brian Donnelly, Herald Scotland, 13 September 2013
  41. ^ "Catholic bishop hits out at 'gay conspiracy' to destroy Christianity – News". The Scotsman (Edinburgh). 12 March 2008. Retrieved 18 December 2011. 
  42. ^ "Bishop rejects plans for seven new joint-campus mixed-faith schools – Education". The Scotsman (Edinburgh). 23 July 2004. Retrieved 18 December 2011. 
  43. ^ "Church labels sex education 'pornography' – Education". The Scotsman (Edinburgh). 23 September 2004. Retrieved 18 December 2011. 
  44. ^ Pigott, Robert (2013-02-25). "BBC News - Cardinal Keith O'Brien resigns as Archbishop". Retrieved 2013-10-18. 
  45. ^ Catherine Deveney (7 April 2013). "Catholic priests unmasked: 'God doesn't like boys who cry' | World news | The Observer". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2013-10-18. 

External links

  • Bishops' Conference of Scotland
  • Facts about Catholics in Scotland
  • Catholic Encyclopedia's article on Scotland
  • Scottish Catholic Observer
  • National Library of Scotland: SCOTTISH SCREEN ARCHIVE (selection of archive films relating to Roman Catholicism in Scotland)
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